Yesterday I met with a graduate student to talk to them about my experiences leaving academia. They asked:"What is the biggest difference between working in academia and industry?". Of course there are many differences (and quite some similarities too), some of which I have probably discussed on this blog before. But one of the main differences that I had not expected when making the transition, is the amount of people you (have to) interact with in order to get your job done.
In academia, of course there are many people to interact with: you usually work with your PI (if you're a grad student or post-doc) or with the people in your lab (if you're a PI), and then with collaborators, university staff, colleagues, etc. But the amount of people who are crucial in decision making (for example on which project to pick) is usually limited (please comment if you think I'm wrong!).
In the type of matrix organization that I work in, there are a ton of people to make decisions to move a project forward. I am in R&D, and already within R&D there are different teams that all need to align, and different directors that need to have a say, and then there are the people in other functions that either need to make decisions themselves about the project, or at least need to be managed in order not to protest against a decision.
And another thing that really surprised me at first is the fact that most meetings are not actually meant for decision making. Instead, they are meant to have all the important stakeholders in the room to say yes, while the actual decision-making process has already happened in pre-meetings, or pre-pre-meetings or over coffee or at the water cooler. And so I find myself spending a considerate amount of time talking to people: understanding whether they would support a project and if not, if I can convince them otherwise or what would need to happen for them to change their minds. One of the directors remarked the other day:"the main thing that stands in the way of success in this project are people's emotions. We need to manage those".
This morning when I cycled to work I listened to this Hidden Brain episode about making fresh starts. It ends with Amy Mann reciting the poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop.
This year, I've lost quite a few things: my kids are both in school so I lost having really small children. I left my old apartment. And even though it is not my loss, when Little Brother recently lost his favorite stuffed animal (a monkey he received as a present three years ago) at school, it definitely felt like my loss. Coming from a family of hoarders, I am quite bad at coping with losing things. Little Brother on the other hand seems quite undisturbed. The stuffed monkey is still lost, and every now and then he asks whether the monkey is still hiding, searches for the monkey and concludes the monkey is not back and that seems it. At the same time I am heartbroken about the monkey and I picture him laying in the cold on a muddy playground somewhere.
I am also slowly losing my identity as a scientist. Or perhaps I'm not losing it, but it is no longer my main identity, which I think is a good thing for me. As they say in the Hidden Brain episode: "when one door closes, another one opens". That is definitely true for the scientist identity loss, but I'm not sure which door opens for a lost stuffed monkey.
Happy 2018 everyone! I had a two week break and it was delightful after the busy year I had. It gave me some time to think about everything that I had done last year and where I want to go this year. A tweep recommended to use Yearcompass for that which I started, but to be honest I still haven't finished because it takes quite some time to fill everything. But it did help me to sort my thoughts about what I find important for next year.
I think my main
struggle challenge for next year is going to be how much change I am going to look for. Am I going to stay in my current job that I'm quite satisfied with but is maybe not as challenging as I would wish, or will I look for something that might fit better? A tweep came up with a solution for that, except that I still have to figure out how to embed this solution in my actual life.
Stay tuned for more on that ;-). As each year, the resolutions for running and blogging are that I wish to do more than last year, but that I'm also okay if it stays approximately the same.
It's that time again to sit down (or run - whatever works) to revisit this year's resolutions and evaluate.
Work: If I read this paragraph from nearly a year ago, I notice that there isn't really a resolution in there, more a description of what I was going to do this year, which was mostly the additional assignment that I was supposed to do for 6 months. In the end, this assignment went on for longer, along with most of my normal job. I don't think I've ever worked harder than this year, which might surprise you when coming from academia - or maybe not. There were many reasons why the assignment went on for longer, but one of the most important ones was that I really liked the work and for a while it seemed like there might be an opportunity opening up at some point. I spent a lot of time contemplating whether I would want to take that opportunity, which would mean moving further away from science. In the end, I realized that I believe that is where my strength lies: in translating between science and business and in connecting people in those two areas. But just when I was certain what I wanted, it turned out that this opportunity would not materialize and that I will return to my old role in 2018. I was pretty disappointed about this, but at the same time realize that I've learned a lot about myself in 2017. I want to get clearer for myself what it is that I work for: what my purpose is if you want to call it that. A recurring piece of feedback I received was that it would be helpful for me to get to know myself better in order to be able to grow at work. I need to figure out how and with what kind of help, but that is something for a next post.
Personal: I ran a half marathon and meditated for 10 minutes daily 99% of the days for the past year. Also, I joined a bootcamp class that is right next to my new house. And honestly, this has probably saved my sanity over the past year, with moving to a new house, being really busy at work and all the kids' logistics. There were a few times when I thought everything was too much and I needed to cut back on things. I probably yelled at my kids and husband more than I should have because there was so much going on at times. I wish I was better at not doing that.
Blogging: Last year I wrote: "I want to be more consistent in posting, so I’m going to post twice a week. Riding the train twice a week might help in writing down all the posts that are in my head but don’t always get transferred to words on paper. And I am going to try to include more link love posts. I really enjoy other people’s link posts and I’m going to compile whatever I tweet/read/listen to also here." This is really the part of my resolutions that fell by the wayside after the first few months. Partly because I was really busy and there was more going on in my head than I could put on paper. And partly because for a while I was debating whether to lose my pseud and become myself here. With every post I wondered if I would write it under my own name, meaning it would be google-able for the rest of my life and associated with me, which made me hesitate to post a lot. In real life, I have become more like babyattachmode, I speak up more about feminist issues for example. However, I have also decided that I don't want to associate my real name to my blog - for now. Especially the posts about mistakes and vulnerability are valuable for me to write, and hopefully for you to read and I don't want anyone to be able to just find those associated with my IRL identity.
This is a tradition I borrowed from DrugMonkey and even though it sadly seems that they stopped blogging earlier this year, let me continue this tradition like last year.
January: Happy new year, dear readers!
February: Yesterday I was chatting with a colleague who has 2 small children.
March: Most academics work hard, whether it is the amount of hours you spend in the lab or the efficiency and focus with which you dedicate yourself to your work.
April: It has been a busy couple weeks, with the mistake I made at work, the temporary new role at work that I'm doing part-time next to my own job, travel to 2 meetings abroad and the fact that we get the key to our new house today (the first time we are owning a home ever!).
May: As most of you know, I like my current job but am also looking to climb the career ladder within the company that I work for.
June: .... nothing posted in June!...
July: It's been quiet here for longer than I had intended.
August: It has been much quieter here on the blog than I had hoped, but the first half of this year has significantly kicked my butt.
September: This morning I came to a realization that shocked me and that made me quite painfully aware of my own biases.
October: Decisions are never straightforward and often there are reasons behind a decision that may seem very irrational, yet are important reasons anyway.
November: The first year after BlueEyes was born, I vowed to myself never to take any important decisions in the first year postpartum.
December: A couple weeks ago I tweeted this.
A couple weeks ago I tweeted this. I had a meeting that - for reasons I won't go into here - was going to be a rough meeting for me and when I came out I was pretty proud that I hadn't cried.
To answer Dr. ScientistMother's question: I'm not sure if having meditated for 10 minutes a day the past year helped me in not crying in this meeting. Maybe. But the main reason - that is admittedly a bit childish perhaps - was that I promised myself a present if I didn't cry. This way, every time something happened in the meeting that I might cry about, I could focus on my present and divert my attention from what was happening in the meeting. So I politely smiled, talked and nodded while thinking about something else. After this 1,5 hours of not crying, I gave myself the book This is how we rise from Claudia Chen. It is an awesome and empowering book, but more about that some other time.
But I want to come back to crying in meetings. Because cried I have in meetings, as documented on this blog here and here. That last post even drove a commenter to diagnose me with a depression and advise me to seek help. And also at work I've had people ask me if I needed a break or not. But at the same time people praise me for my energy and dedication. And to be honest, this package of energy and passion and dedication for me automatically comes with crying every now and then. Crying because I care, or because I am frustrated to make something happen or because I really appreciate the people I work with. Most of the time, it is not a sign that something is wrong with me, it is actually a sign that I care. Because at the end of the day, I'd rather not zone out and think about something else in a meeting just to make sure I don't cry.
For the first time in over 3 years I opened the folder on my computer that contains the grant and fellowship applications that I submitted during my postdoc, including one that was still work in progress. By the time I left academia, I had submitted 10 applications, none of which got funded. The reason I opened this folder was to share one of them with someone, not necessarily because I wanted to read them again. But as these things go, I found myself going down the rabbit hole of reading my old applications. And something struck me: they lacked the spark of really wanting to discover something in science. They all read a little like: “look I have an okay CV, I can do a whole bunch of things and collaborate with a whole bunch of people. Oh and then I’m going to do this project”.
And I remember a conversation I had with 2 more senior scientists in the process of writing that unfinished application that revived that spark. They asked me what the question was that I really wanted to answer and what it was that got me excited about neuroscience in the first place. But by then I had already made up my mind about wanting to leave academia, so we will never know if rediscovering the spark would have got me funded.
But it did make me realize once again that I got so caught up in chasing funding that I nearly forgot what it is all about: studying something and trying to find answers to questions that fascinate you. And it also made me realize that except for those 2 people, none of my advisors or mentors ever asked me that question: what it is that I really want to study and that really gets me excited to understand further. And more importantly that I forgot to ask myself that question as well.
My main reason to leave academia was the short contract I was on, in combination with the difficulty to get funding in order to sustain myself in academia. I wanted stability and be able to think about projects longer than just the year I had funding for. So I left for a position in industry.
However, shortly after I joined the company that I work for, there were rumors that our part of the company would be sold. If that were to happen, it was very unclear what would happen to the employees: would we be asked to move elsewhere, would we be fired? Fortunately that did not happen, but it did reinforce the notion that industry is not synonymous with stability.
And then at the beginning of this year I started an assignment that was supposed to last for six months. Currently, we're near the end of the year and I am still in that assignment. I enjoy it and people around me value what I do. It does however, lead to a whole bunch of uncertainty about what will be next: can I stay in the assignment (which I would like), or do I go back to my actual job? It made me realize all the more that there is uncertainty and change everywhere.
I do feel that I am much better equipped now then when I was a post-doc to deal with change. I know much better what I am good at because people give more feedback here than in academia, and I trust that there will be a job that I like somewhere for me. And it really helps that I have a permanent contract here that is not dependent on whether I find funding to sustain myself.
Most importantly, inside I went from feeling like a tiny boat that could be knocked over by change...
.... to a much more stable rock that stays stable among change, on most days. On other days I REALLY wish I knew what I am going to be doing next year and what I can look forward to.
The first year after BlueEyes was born, I vowed to myself never to take any important decisions in the first year postpartum. I was too tired, emotional and just not myself to be trusted to do anything else than do the work I had thought out before that year and take care of my baby and myself. It was even difficult to decide whether to work during naptime or take a much needed nap myself.
A little over two years later, Little Brother was born and I completely disobeyed my own order not to take any decisions during that first year. We moved, I briefly started a new post-doc job and then decided to leave academia. I still believe that was a really good decision by the way, but I wish there was a good way to figure out if you can be trusted to take decisions at a particular time.
I notice that there are differences during my cycle in terms of feeling confident to take a decision (or not at all), and then there's prodromal migraine phases during which I feel sad and completely incompetent. Usually I only figure out that this brain state was there after it has ended. It makes me realize how nice it would be if there was a little light on the inside of your wrist that would switch on if you are good to make important decisions, or something like that. Or is that what mindfulness is good for...?
What about you? Do you know when your brain can be trusted to take decisions?